Poetry: Huck Finn Praises Emmeline Grangerford’s Tribute to Stephen Dowling Bots

Mark Twain is given official credit for this poem, but it was really composed by Emmeline Grangerford, whose family Huckleberry Finn met on his Adventures down the Mississippi River.

Below, Huck quotes Emmeline’s tribute to Stephen Dowling Bots, who came to a watery end. He also records what happened to Emmeline, whose compulsive rhyming finally led to her sadful demise.
This young girl kept a scrap-book when she was alive, and used to paste obituaries and accidents and cases of patient suffering in it out of the Presbyterian Observer, and write poetry after them out of her own head. It was very good poetry. This is what she wrote about a boy by the name of Stephen Dowling Bots that fell down a well and was drownded:

Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d.
And did young Stephen sicken,
      And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
      And did the mourners cry?
No; such was not the fate of
      Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him thickened,
      ‘Twas not from sickness’ shots.
No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
      Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
      Of Stephen Dowling Bots.
Despised love struck not with woe
      That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
      Young Stephen Dowling Bots.
O no. Then list with tearful eye,
      Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world fly,
      By falling down a well.
They got him out and emptied him;
      Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
      In the realms of the good and great.

If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain’t no telling what she could a done by-and-by. Buck said she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn’t ever have to stop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn’t find anything to rhyme with it she would just scratch it out and slap down another one, and go ahead. She warn’t particular, she could write about anything you choose to give her to write about, just so it was sadful. Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her “tribute” before he was cold. She called them tributes. The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker- the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then she hung fire on a rhyme the dead person’s name, which was Whistler. She warn’t ever the same, after that; she never complained, but she kind of pined away and did not live long.

Note: The stamp is German. Here’s a link to a Russian stamp honoring Mark Twain, if a buyer hasn’t already snapped it up.

The Fashionable Cows of DFW: A Lone Star Attitude

[There may be long blank spaces in this post. Please don’t stop reading–scroll all the way to the end. The blank spaces are beyond my control.]

In keeping with Dallas’ role as both the sine qua non and the arbiter elegantiae of Lone Star fashion, the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport houses a number of swank boutiques offering aspiring trend setters apparel on the cutting edge.

Today we highlight a shop that offers the latest wrinkle in Texas style a la mode.

First, for her, a tunic top made of Jersey and adorned with tiny embroidered rosettes. For him, a shirt of dark blue denim. Both are suitable for casual meandering or for more formal trailer transport to greener pastures.

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In the background, a lovely dress in Angus black, falling in front to just above the knee, and in back to the hock.

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A closeup, below, highlights flowers fashioned from brightly colored silk ribbons bordering a modified V-neck, redolent of the meadows in a Texas spring.

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Next, another his-and-her combo: He sports a striped shirt, narrow verticals in navy blue, wider horizontals in alternating Babe ox blue, sea gray, and straw yellow, over a brown dun polo shirt. She looks stunning in a zebra-patterned skirt topped by a bodice of stone gray with dapples, red roan, brindle, and spring timothy. A circlet of bailing twine around her neck gives the outfit a festive air. Both garments could be worn for an evening of frolicking through maize stubble, or a midnight raid on the corn crib.

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Finally, an accessory no true gentleman cow can do without: a western-styled hat. Fashioned after the world-famous Stetson, this chapeau is bilaterally symmetrical, allowing it to be worn on either the right or the left horn with equal panache. One caveat, however: The wearer must take care to remove the hat before attempting to roll under a barbed wire fence, lest damage occur.

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It should also be noted that, although all the lady models are polled, the clothing displayed here can be worn by unpolled cows with no alteration whatsoever. Gentlemen cows, however, might have some difficulty wearing the hats without horns on which to hang them.


The reviewer thanks Lone Star Attitude, DFW International Airport, for providing models and clothing, and for keeping her amused during a ninety-minute layover. In publishing this post, she intends no disrespect, but only admiration for those responsible for choosing to market their merchandise in such a delightful way.

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I need an emoticon

The low point of my teaching career–one of the low points, anyway–occurred at a literary festival hosted by Texas Lutheran University.

I’d accompanied several of my high school students, who had submitted pieces of writing to TLU weeks before. The morning of the festival, we were assigned to small groups, each comprising about a dozen secondary students from several high schools in the area and a teacher or two. A TLU professor and an English major led discussions of student submissions.

Somehow, talk turned to Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, the essay in which Swift appears to suggest that the poor of Ireland might benefit from selling their infants as food for the rich. My seniors had read the essay a month or two before.

In the middle of the ensuing talk about tone, irony, distance between meaning and text, Pat, one of my brightest students, turned to me and said in a voice audible to all, “I thought he was serious about eating Irish babies.”

“It’s satire,” I hissed, sliding under the sofa.

That’s what I get, I thought, for not polling the class at the end of the lesson. I imagine more than one of my students, considering their penchant for distraction, graduated thinking Swift approved of cannibalism. I should post a clarification on FaceBook.

But that was years ago. If I were teaching now I wouldn’t fear exposing my students to literary fests. If I were teaching now, I’d simply tell students to take their pencils and lightly mark Swift’s Proposal with an emoticon: a little smiley face that signifies, “Didn’t mean it. Just being amusing.”

I’d have them put one on Huckleberry Finn, too. In fact, I’d buy a box of them for Huck. We’d go page by page, sticking a little yellow smiley beside every paragraph likely to upset the terminally literal.

While I was at it, I’d stick on on me, too. I need an emoticon.

In a piece I wrote for Whiskertips, another blog for which I’m responsible, I issued guidelines for grocery shopping. I got the idea from Pat Hoglund’s Have I Got a Story from You. Hoglund writes about her dislike of shopping for groceries. I took the topic a step further, offering a codified version of the rules according to me. Θ*

*Didn’t mean it. Just being amusing.

Or, in the cases of Swift and Twain, scathing.

I didn’t mean people shouldn’t choose fruits and vegetables with care. I didn’t mean, “Get out of my way or I’ll run over you with my cart.” Or your children. I didn’t mean anything I said.

Well, I meant some of it. Men really do move through the checkout line faster than women, especially women with children. And when people look straight at me while talking on cell phones, I do jump into their conversations. And I think people should line up behind older people and not complain when they take a long time to get out their money. As I said, we’re all going to get to that point, if we’re lucky.

But I wrote the piece as if I meant everything I said–literally. And therein lies the problem. I’m aware some of my readers might have taken me literally. It’s happened before. Like in my post asking why men always end up with the remote control. That was meant to be lighthearted, ironic, neither a serious question nor a criticism of the social order.

If I had an emoticon, I could prevent misunderstanding. Unfortunately, this program doesn’t give me that option. The symbol Θ, marked with the asterisk, above, is theta, the closest symbol to an emoticon I could find.

I refuse to insert Θs when I mean something else.

So, dear readers, please muddle along with me, taking on faith that I am a well-meaning person without a malicious bone in my body, a writer whose one compulsion lies in a satirical, hyperbolic, amusing, flippant, frivolous, blithe, playful, sprightly, fanciful, dry, wry, droll, aslant, farcical, irreverent,** ironic but entirely non-sarcastic take on life that will burst forth no matter how I try to keep a lid on it.

** Thesaurus.com is a fine resource.